Comic Vineyard v1.1: Manage your comic collection with Comic Vine

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I had promised to release Comic Vineyard v1.1 on December 6th but with the Cataclysm launching on Tuesday, I figured it'd be smarter to get the release out a bit sooner. This update includes a number of bugfixes and a few important additions. Without further hesitation:  

The updates in v1.1 are: 

  • Multiple list URLs can be passed to create one large/merged collection.
  • If a list has multiple pages, we now grab and render all of 'em.
  • Synchronized the docs between README.txt and index.html.
  • Corrected README.txt documentation for command line usage.
  • Added notes to README.txt about running it through Apache.
  • All HTML pages are now fluid width instead of duping Comic Vine's fixed.
  • Support "17 (4)" and "17(4)" as a way to indicate 4 owned copies of 17.
  • Comment parser is a bit looser in parsing issue numbers from chaos.
  • Display an error if we can't find any issue numbers in your comment.
  • Display an error if the API has no data for a specified issue number.
  • Bugfix: We now verify that the submitted URL looks like a Comic Vine list.
  • Bugfix: If our collection is empty after parsing, we exit with an error.
  • Bugfix: A range of "24-13" is now internally corrected to "13-24".
  • Bugfix: Comment keys are always lowercased ("Location" vs "location").
  • Bugfix: Submitted URLs are now trimmed of any whitespace.
  • Bugfix: Fixed bad render filename if ?page=1 was in the URL.
  • Bugfix: HTML-based error messages will now display on their own lines.
  • Bugfix: The HTML-based footer of the progress page is now added.
A lot of these bugfixes and validation tweaks were found by early users of v1.0: thank you! if your original attempt to use Comic Vineyard crashed and burned horribly, give it another try as either the errors will be fixed, or at least reported so you know what might need tweaking. If things are still coming out fugly, don't hesitate to let me know and I'll help you get it right. 
By far, however, the biggest improvement in v1.1 is twofold: first, lists that are longer than one page (50 volumes) are now fully parsed. Secondly, multiple lists may now be combined into one giant Comic Vineyard. For example, I have an ongoing pull list and an archived/finished list and while I can still render them individually if I want (and sometimes I do), I can also stick both URLs into Comic Vineyard and render a combined collection. In this way, I can focus on updating my ongoing titles a lot faster (without having to scroll down through 100 volumes that'll never be updated again), but still get a complete collection out of Comic Vineyard. 
The goal of Comic Vineyard v1.2 will be theme improvements: I've got a lot of incremental tweaks there that should be easy to do but, because of the Cataclysm, I don't have an immediate idea of when the next release will be. Don't fret, however: keep your comments, suggestions, complaints, etc., coming, and I'll address them regardless.

Comic Vineyard v1.0: Manage your comic collection with Comic Vine

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5 days ago I showed off a preview screenshot of Comic Vineyard, a way to catalog your comic book collection using Comic Vine. Today, and as promised, I'd like to show off Comic Vineyard v1.0. It's still got a healthy way to go before I consider it As Awesome As I Envision In My Head, but it's ready for other people to start poking at it. Without further posturing:

There are still a few things that aren't exactly right. For example, if your Comic Vine list is over 50 volumes, Comic Vineyard will only process the first 50 (this is top priority for the 1.1 release scheduled for next Monday). Similarly, Comic Vineyard was designed so that the output is entirely customizable... but, due to time constraints, there's currently only one theme available. This is where you can help out: give me your suggestions for theme displays, tweaks, features, approaches, etc., and I'll see about getting them done. If you have any general features you'd like, not necessarily display related, don't hesitate to also wax poetic about them.

One of the "odder" things about Comic Vineyard, I suppose, is that it was written as an "as needed" utility as opposed to an "always on" program. This fits my particular needs, but it does mean that it's "slower" than one might expect: every time you run it, it needs to grab data about your comic books from Comic Vine. The rendered output is bookmarkable (like this one) so that you only have to run Comic Vineyard when your collection changes. This reduces the load and bandwidth both on my server and Comic Vine's server, but "forces" you to watch a little progress bar whenever you update your list. My current belief is that most people only update their list once or twice a week, and the "cost" of a "slow" render is acceptable. What about you though? Is the slowness of rendering a large collection a problem?

Anyways: Comic Vineyard v1.0 is now available. More next week.

Managing your comic collection with Comic Vine

I'm not a huge fan of most online comic book collection trackers as data entry takes far too long, sites are butt-ugly, you can't customize your views, etc. Having fallen in love with Comic Vine (my two week anniversary is in two days), I wanted to see if I could bootstrap a way to maintain my comic collection using Comic Vine itself. I've made some pretty healthy progress on this in the last ten hours using Comic Vine lists and the Comic Vine API, and this screenshot shows my current work. The script is coded in such a way that the output is entirely customizable and the final version will be free software. I'm also considering running a web service to allow folks to theme their collection without having to download and run the script themselves. 
Thoughts and comments? 

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RPG-ing: Solutions to "it feels like a task"

@Aiden Cross recently wrote a blog entry where he details why he felt the current state of Comic Vine RPGing was a non-fun “task”. A few hundred comments later, he posted an addendum collecting all the current complaints about why this might be. Being new to Vine but interested in roleplaying here, I found the post pretty enlightening to the current state of things. I come from a healthy RPG background, having run a tabletop RPG game site for the past ten years, as well as a shared wiki-universe that ended up with hundreds of players and over 300 pages of encyclopedic information. I'd like you to entertain my thoughts and solutions on how current RPG complaints might be rectified.

First, as a general disclaimer: yes, I’m new here. No, I have no experience with the existing RPG forums. Yes, I’ve played-by-post before and think I can bring something useful to the table. No, I don’t think folks are “doing RPGs wrong”, nor do I know any of you so my comments aren’t motivated by bad blood or history.

I think one of the underlying problems behind many of the current complaints can be summed up with one word: expectation . It’s hard for a player to know what they’re getting into when they look at a current or new RPG thread. They might look for an OOC thread for information (that may not exist), or they might just post in hopes that everything will be to their liking. If it’s not, they’ll drop out unhappy, affecting everyone’s enjoyment.

Thankfully, this is a really easy problem to solve by adding a list of clarifications and intentions to an RPG's thread:
Story: Sandbox or Focused
Duration: One-shot, Mini-series, or Ongoing
Post length: 1, 2, 3 paragraphs or Unlimited
Speed: Daily, Every few days, Weekly
Enrollment: Open or Closed
Other threads: [links to OOC and Recap threads] 

Story: Sandbox or Focused?

Is this story a sandbox or focused? If it’s focused, the game master has a definitive adventure or quest in mind with a hoped-for conclusion, and the players should be focused on bringing that storyline to a satisfying ending. A focused game represents the “structured” or “on the rails” approach that some play-by-post games might take: they’re interested in exploring a single story or idea, and large deviations from that storyline are unwelcome.

A sandbox game, however, is wide-open, both in story and character development. The players should feel free to insert their own within-reason ideas into the mix, and the game master should feel free to do potentially untoward (but reversible) things to the characters. In a sandbox game, the game master wants to be challenged as well, and part of that challenge is intelligently and creatively responding to a player’s plot-twisting or game-breaking ideas. The players, on the other hand, should be willing to “lose”: they might misplace a limb, lose all their powers, get a debilitating disease, lose a loved one, or what have you. In the comic book world, most of these things are entirely reversible (with a corresponding in-story explanation), and players should be willing to work toward favorable results in-story. “Reversible” is the key here: forcing a player to do things they wouldn’t want to do or are taboo subjects (being raped, becoming gay, murdering a loved one, being mind-controlled, etc. etc.) should be privately consulted with, or left out entirely.

Duration: One-shot or Battle, Mini-series, or Ongoing? 

Post length: 1, 2, 3 paragraphs or Unlimited?   

Speed: Daily, Every few days, Weekly? 

The duration indicates to potential players how long the game master thinks the story will take. A one-shot or battle won’t take anytime at all: it might only be a week or a month or, hell, even a 3-hour “as quick as possible” some Tuesday night. A mini-series could be 3, 5 or 12 “issues” long, roughly corresponding to how many months the game master thinks their story’s twists and turns will play out. An ongoing story might be for regular team-based adventures or a sandbox game: it’ll keep going as long as people keep playing.

The post length also indicates speed of play, both for writing and reading. By standardizing the length of a response or action, no one will feel pressured to write a book or spend an hour drafting his or her response. A 1 paragraph game emphasizes actions over flavor and progresses speedily, while 2 to 3 paragraphs will let a little of that flowery-talk through. Unlimited posts are for those who prefer the extra fluff to really paint the world. Note that Unlimited is not an exclusive label: players shouldn’t necessarily feel that they must write 800 words just because a previous player has, merely that the length is welcome should they want to.

Finally, the speed of a game indicates the maximum amount of time all players should take between responses or “turns”. Daily means everyone should be checking and responding daily, weekly once a week, and so forth. This sets the expectation for how much “work” is involved: players can quickly gauge if they have the time or effort needed to be a rewarding member of the storyline.

Enrollment: Open or Closed? 

This is just a quick note on whether new players are currently welcome to the storyline. GMs can tweak this option based on how many players they currently have, vacations, dropouts, etc. I’ve seen a few OOC threads where game masters have said “Hey! Please delete your comment, you’re not allowed!” and this can easily be addressed in the first post of a thread.

Other threads

Someone had previously suggested adding a “Recap” thread alongside the OOC thread, and I fully support this idea. ARGs, transmedia, games, comics, TV shows, all have “Previously on…” equivalents from entry to entry, and game threads should be no different. Whether it’s time-based (every week, month, major event), or   count-based (10 pages, 20 pages, 50 comments, etc.), a recap will help new players (in the case of an open enrollment), Vine Universe canonneers, and your existing players.

Which complaints does this list solve? 

By putting this list of items at the top of your RPG threads, it should help solve a number of the complaints that came up, solely by giving to players a better idea of what you, the game master, expect their involvement to be. Players stay happy because they only join RPGs that fit into their time schedule, writing capabilities, or creative control, and game masters stay happy because they only get players that meld with the sort of story they’re looking to run.

  1. Some don’t like the new structured feel of current RPGs (Story)
  2. People feel pressured into writing or the posts are too big to catch-up on (Duration, Post-length, Speed, Recap threads)
  3. People aren’t willing to change things or else depend on others to do it. (Story; This is solved twice: players who don’t want to change things can join a focused story, or they could join a sandboxed story and let other player’s suggestions take control.)
  4. Canon RPGs go too fast and there’s too much to read (Recap threads)
  5. Players are left out of the loop in their current RPG (Recap threads)
  6. RPG ideas are “already done” or “too predicatable” (Story: Sandbox)
  7. RPGs are too slow (Duration, Post-length, Speed)
  8. Teams do RPGs that affect the entire universe, but don’t share (Recap threads)

Which complaints MIGHT this list solve? 

  1. People drop out too quickly. (Hopefully, a player will only join an RPG they feel they can be a decent member of: sandbox for those who want to express their own ideas, 1 paragraphs for those who have a variable amount of time, etc., one-shots for those who want to explore new ideas , etc.). 

Which complaints WON’T this list solve? 

  1. Popularity and recognition is too important (i.e., only well-known players are involved, an individual wants to be the star or “make a mark” [canon or otherwise], you have to be on a team to do anything “noteworthy”).
  2. Newbs aren’t treated tenderly (posts are ignored, don’t know how to fit into the story, shunned when they screw up, etc.).
  3. Team-play is too important (canon- or noteworthy-wise, and a team becomes a clique that prevents the strongest players from branching out into other games; this MIGHT be solved by shorter Duration or Post-length games).

Those are my forward-moving thoughts. Yours?    

DC Comics Reread or: How I'm Rekindling the Affair

I'm not much one for writing junk on another person's website (I'm all about the "My data should be on my site as only I can attest to its permanent archive"), but of particular interest, and why I found Comic Vine in the first place, is my DC Comics Reread. That is, I've embarked on a crazy quest to read every DC comic that has been released and is available (be it legitimately, via a preservation scan, etc.). I'm in the midst of 1936, before superheroes, at the moment, and I've been tweeting my progress (you'll see them here as I've integrated Twitter). But why? 
Like most adult readers, there was a time when I didn't keep up with comics due to time constraints, flagging interests, or what have you. Now that I'm older and my life has settled down slightly (I Know Who I Am, My Kids Are Past The OMG Stage Of "How The Hell Do You Do This?"), I'm trying to get back into the mainstays of the comic industry. I've never stopped reading comics, graphic novels, or "sequential art" but I had, for time and money considerations, stayed away from DC or Marvel entirely. Since reupping all my weekly subscriptions (and adding "Every DC Title" to the list), I've wanted to rekindle my love of the characters I grew up with. Doing so isn't entirely easy: while I can pick up the Chronicles of Batman or Superman, the same can't be said for Hawkman (one might, agreeably, ask "Really? Hawkman?!") or similar characters. Similarly, I can't easily be assured that I'm reading Every Thing Available (it'll be years and years before the Wonder Woman Chronicles is ever fully available).
So instead of worrying about What I'm Missing, the only thing I could logically think to do was Start Over and Read Everything. Sometimes again, sometimes brand new. This isn't an entirely odd project for me: I've started similar things for Star Trek Episodes, Star Trek Books, 2000 ADs, X-Files, and so on. The journey, not the destination, is a key quip in my toolbelt of fandom. 
As for the Marvel and DC question: I've decided that I just don't have the love of Marvel characters as I do for DC. When I was young, my primary fascination was with Marvel characters. I read DC here and there, sure, but it was always Make Mine Marvel. Now that I'm older, it "feels" like I always resonated with DC more (though, I occasionally get confused: my memories of the "awesome" Crisis on Infinite Earths was actually forgotten love for the The Infinity Gauntlet). This might be a misplaced belief that DC is more "mature" than Marvel (if Vertigo == MAX, then DC > Marvel) or something else entirely. I dunno.  I do know that rereading Marvel and DC at the same time would be too crazy, even for me. 
Anyways. Sup. I'm Morbus, and this is my blog post to unlock another quest. Did I mention I'm an achievement, quest, point, and gamification whore?

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